Yanagawa is a charming town about 70 kilometers west of Fukuoka, with a population of over 71,000. Its main attraction is really its canals, giving it the monicker “Venice of Japan”. I have never been to Venice so I can’t really say if that’s accurate, but the trip down the smooth waters of Yanagawa was one of the most peaceful I’ve had in a while for sure. I will tell you right now this place is a must-visit especially when you come to Fukuoka during cherry blossom season. It was glorious to be gliding underneath weeping cherry blossoms, with their petals falling into the boat like snowflakes.
The best part about planning a visit to Yanagawa is that you can actually purchase a ticket that will allow you to also visit Dazaifu within a day. My video below gives you a glimpse into the beauty and charms you can expect from both locations, but we’re going to talk about Yanagawa first.
How to get here
The Nishitetsu Company sells these special Dazaifu and Yanagawa One-Day Sightseeing Ticket Pack that allows you to visit both places for a really great price. These tickets are sold in two stations, Fukuoka (Tenjin) and Yakuin. Whichever station you purchase the tickets from will be considered your beginning and ending point for the round trip
Since we lived in Tenjin, we purchased our ticket packs from the Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station. This ticket will allow you to ride only the Nishitetsu trains of course. As you can see, one ticket costs 2,930 yen for adults (1,420 yen for children), and I honestly think this is an amazing price considering everything else included in the pack.
Apart from the train rides to both Yanagawa and Dazaifu, this ticket also entitles you to a canal ride in Yanagawa, plus discounts when you visit certain shops, restaurants, and museums in both Dazaifu and Yanagawa.
These tickets are valid up to one month including the date of purchase, but because it is such a well-priced package, they are strict in implementing the rules. You can only stop at Dazaifu and Yanagawa Stations using this ticket; otherwise your ticket will become void and you will have to pay full price for your train rides. (You can check out the Nishitetsu page for more information about this ticket.)
Whether you visit Yanagawa or Dazaifu first is entirely up to you. All you need to do is to hand the right stub to the security personnel standing by the train station card scanners. They will let you in without another word. We decided to head to Yanagawa early in the day since it’s the farther location, and for this we took the Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta line to the Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station. Make sure to check the timetable for the trains!
The trip to Yanagawa is a scenic one that takes nearly an hour. I LOVE these seats which you can lift and arrange to face the direction you prefer. (I was super excited because we don’t have these kinds of things in my country lol.)
Upon arriving at the Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station, there will be a person assigned to meet you and take you to the tourist information center right outside the station. You are given a map and the course of the boat ride is explained to you. The company provides a shuttle service to take you to the boarding area of the punting station, but when we arrived we were told to wait for the next shuttle to arrive. We decided to walk to the station instead.
What we didn’t realize was that there are actually several companies that run river punting services here. We initially arrived at the wrong place, but the boatmen there pointed us to the right direction. For reference, you’re supposed to go to the Yanagawa Kanko Kaihatsu K.K. Shougetsu Punting Station. What a long name! I pinned the location in the map at the bottom of the post for you all, but basically, this is the place:
You get to walk across a bridge overlooking this stunning sight!
If you’re still unsure if you’ve found the right place, the boatmen from this company wear the color blue. (Like the man in the photo below does.) They might be the only ones in this color as the others wear white, so that will make them easier to spot. All you have to do when you get here is to find where the rest of the tourists are and line up with them.
The day we came to Yanagawa, there were a good amount of tourists alongside us. It wasn’t an overcrowded sort, but we did have to fall in line and wait for about 15 minutes before we could get on the boat. I honestly didn’t care so much because the waiting area’s sakura kept me busy.
These flat boats, or donkobune, can carry more people than you might think. My surprise turned to discomfort when I saw such an elderly gentleman was to row us through the canals. He was enthusiastic about it all though.
The group in our boat was a mixed bag of Japanese, Koreans, and then us. Our boatman could only speak Japanese though, so the rest of us just sat back and enjoyed the view. By his gestures and the way the Japanese tourists reacted, I guessed that the boatman talked about the history of Yanagawa and the many places we passed by. My limited Japanese helped me understand almost nothing.
Thanks to the internet, I found out that these canals were originally built in 1855 as moats to keep the Tachibana-clan’s enemies out of their castle town. This moat aspect becomes more apparent in the narrower parts of the canals. When that era was over, the canals were then used to irrigate farmlands across the town. These days, the canals aren’t just tourist attractions but are still used for agricultural purposes. You can say the people here are pretty much living in harmony with the waters of Yanagawa by finding great uses for it.
The waterways at Yanagawa go through many of the historic old ruins, townhouses, and shrines that make up the town. As you drift down the canal, you will catch sight of them. They provided such a nice backdrop to the many flowering plants and blossoms we saw along the way. I probably should have taken pictures of them.
We even came across a couple shooting their wedding photos. It was a totally random moment haha!
When you get to the narrower parts of the canals, you will pass underneath a lot of short bridges. The boat master will begin taking advantage of the acoustics of the enclosed space to sing nursery songs about Yanagawa, many of which were written by a famous homegrown Showa-era poet named Hakushu Kitahara. (If you watched my travel video before scrolling down, you probably heard the singing already.) Our boatman’s voice was a delight to listen to!
Just a note for people who have claustrophobia: The ceilings are super low when you pass by the underside of these bridges. You might want to take caution or skip this experience altogether.
More than halfway through the trip, you will come across this riverside shop selling food and drinks. We decided to buy some ice cream, because that’s what you do when you’re in Japan regardless of the season!
We got Hokkaido Milk and Amao Strawberry flavors. These look so cute! I love that flat blob of ice cream haha!
After purchasing your food and drinks, do not forget to take one last glance back. It’s quite a pretty picture.
The boat ride winds down after 60 minutes and 4 kilometers, finally docking at a place called Ohana. This area contains lots of shops and restaurants, one of which I will be talking about in tomorrow’s post. We want to keep this one a manageable length! If ever you don’t plan to eat here, you can take the free shuttle bus back to the station.
I hope this post entices you to try this experience. It’s a stunning one when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Experience Yanagawa River Punting!